"Stop it!" The Author exclaims, her Italian volume at full blast. Her hair's still damp from showering last night, and it's flying every which way as the Imagination slowly turns off its Setting. "Whose idea was this?"
"It's my own fault fer participating," Lukas admits. He wraps Alynn in his cloak. It'll take her a while to get warmed up, even after the Setting gets turned off. "Someone get her something warm to drink."
"It was the blond Viking guy's idea," says Rhett the time traveller's son. "The rest of us tried to talk him out of it."
"Look at how well that worked," The Author snaps. "Listen. I have to be up, dressed, and teeth brushed by 8:00. I don't have time for this! Everyone shut up and go to your rooms!"
Muttering to themselves, all the Characters find the white door with their name painted on it. Lukas helped Alynn stand up. She's still shivering almost too hard to walk. I start to run over to her, but The Author stops me.
I turn around. "Yes, ma'am?"
The Author smiles at me. "I'm going to write out a scene you're in this afternoon, just for fun. You ready for it?"
I grin. "You bet I am!" I say, trotting off to Alynn. "Did you hear that? I'm going to be in a scene!"
"That-t-t's-s-s gr-r-rand-d-d," Alynn says, her teeth chattering. She looks pretty terrible, but she tries her hardest to smile at me. I give her a hug to help her warm up, and Selah brings her a cup of tea. I think there's magic in everything that Selah makes--I've seen her use her handkerchief as a gas mask, and it worked. Alynn is perfectly fine by the time the tea's gone.
The Author glares at us, and we dash off to our rooms.
My scene doesn't get written until after dinner, but I don't care. I'm excited.
The Imagination turns into an oasis in the Gobi Desert. I'm on a mission with my sister Alliance and a few of her classmates that are about to graduate this year--Bri the medic, Peter the robotics guy, and their leader Captain Israel. Since I was just sent here by mistake, I spend my time staying out of everyone else's way. At the moment, I'm programming the cyborg dogs to search for water.
Peter walks into my tent and looks around. "Have you seen Alliance?" he asks.
"Great. She's missing." Peter leaves, and a breath of hot air comes in through the tent flap he forgets to zip shut. I finish programming K9-7H, then turn him on. His tail starts wagging.
"Good boy!" I smile, scratching all the parts of him that are still fur. He smiles at me, but his ears suddenly perk up. His bionic eye grows red, and he yaps three times. He's intercepted a warning signal.
I flip the replay switch that's implanted in the back of his neck, and I hear Alliance's voice, screaming for help.
"Search for victim," I order, and I take off flying at his heels. "And call for backup!"
My bare feet are burning in the hot sand as I run. My lungs are burning. My head is spinning. I shake myself and keep running, trying to keep up with K9-7H. He barks once, saying that we're 500 yards away from Alliance.
I can see her now. She's under a lone tree, fighting something off. I squint in the sun. I think it's a shape-shifter, a victim of some sort of biological experiment gone wrong that can turn into a wraith when it's angry. It's in wraith form now. I run harder.
"Alliance!" I scream through a dry throat. I pick up a handful of sand as soon as I'm close enough and throw it at the shape-shifter. I get some in its eyes. I keep throwing sand.
"What are you doing?" Alliance asks. She grabs her quarterstaff, but the shape-shifter knocks it from her. I grab it and thrust it through him--but he's in wraith form. It doesn't do much of anything.
Suddenly, the wraith's hand turns human. It knocks me over, and it sits on me when I fall. Its face is a horrible mix of wraith and human as I look into it, and its eyes are pure evil.
"I don't have the power to kill you," it hisses, "but what I do--"
A sudden, burning pain tears through my left shoulder, and I scream. The next thing I know, Alliance has the shape-shifter trapped in her bulletproof cloak, and I'm screaming, watching the sand grow red with my own blood.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.